Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Kim Kane Talks the Importance of Leading with Your Authentic Self

Kim Kane has been involved in the human resources industry for more than a decade. For our latest Faces of HR profile, we sat down with Kim to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influence, as well as her thoughts on trends and best practices for the HR industry, including how company leaders can make HR a value within their organization. According to Kane, it all starts with bringing your authentic self to work.

Kim Kane

“To encourage this, when someone exhibits vulnerability, or they open up about a struggle, or they give tough feedback, or they make the wrong call on something – those are all moments to build trust and act out the culture in practice,” she recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “For example, if the first time someone gives a piece of tough feedback, that person is met with resistance or defensiveness, they are less likely to open up in the future. If when someone shows vulnerability, they are not listened to, they are less likely to be vulnerable in the future, or they’ll temper it. And if any of your company values are things like honesty, transparency, creativity, innovation – it’s important that those values come through in the way that your entire team builds trust and communicates.

“I really believe this can also happen through things like humor and not taking yourself too seriously,” Kane added. “For example, at my current company, transparency, and accessibility to anyone (regardless of role) are two important values of ours. Our culture is also one in which we do some light pranking of one another and are pretty playful with our senses of humor. I think both go hand in hand. Because jokes can be had at the expense of anyone (our CEO included), it signals that we do not believe much in a hierarchy, that the leadership doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and that all ideas are valued, which allows for employees to not only know it’s safe to make a joke or have banter with anyone, but it’s also safe to challenge them, approach them for help, brainstorm ideas with them, and more. Anything that can break a barrier down to allow for a better flow of communication or trust is worth trying, and why not have fun with it.”

In our latest Faces of HR profile, meet Kim Kane, Senior Director of People Operations at Zenput – a software company supporting restaurant, convenience, and grocery chains.

How did you get your start in the field?

Unintentionally! I really lucked out because I stumbled across both a career and passion that I didn’t even know existed until I was in it. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer for a very long time until I was ready to graduate and go to law school, and then had a sudden change of heart. I scrambled in my last year of university to get a business minor, graduated at an inopportune time due to an economic downturn, and so I took the first job I could secure which was as a Finance Assistant to a CFO at a non-profit. Very quickly into that role, my manager at the time observed that I was more drawn to HR-related things and asked if I wanted to be their first HR person. With no foundation in place, I was able to build out that function working very closely with the CFO and Executive Director, which was the best first job experience I could’ve asked for.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

There are so many people who have influenced me, but three women in particular stand out, two of which are not directly related to the industry. For about five years, I worked a second, part-time job for fun at a company called SoulCycle. I was very fortunate to work there at the time their co-founders were still at the company. They had a way of building community, both externally with customers, and internally as employees, that was second to none. When it comes to culture, building internal community, communication, and employee experience, I absolutely would not be who I am without that experience. They stressed the importance of experience, that small things matter, to always find the “yes” in a situation, and that every single day you need to keep in mind that people have an endless number of opportunities and that you must work to prove to them that they are making the right choice by investing their time and energy working for you.

The other biggest influence on me was a VP of Talent that I worked with not long ago. She was the first Recruitment/Talent leader that I was able to work in lock step with, and we partnered on something almost every single day. Not only did she teach me a majority of what I know about Recruitment (she’s still someone I call when I need someone to bounce ideas off of or get advice), but the approach she took with her work was extremely pragmatic, strategic, and she was almost instantly successful because she could quickly understand the business landscape, what recruitment meant to each individual leader, and was able to get what she wanted by linking the two in a seamless way. She greatly impacted the way I see the business partnership between People-focused departments and other organization leaders, and how deeply understanding the business of each organization is critical to get anything meaningful done together.

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

I had a manager who had a very direct communication style, which was in stark contrast to most of the people we worked with. Upon seeing the reactions of some of those who would interact with her, I would tend to catch up with them later to soften whatever she had said. One time she realized what I was doing and confronted me about it. She explained to me that she was aware of her impact, that she was communicating intentionally, and she also believed that those people could receive it, and that every time I ran after them to soften it, I was not only diminishing her intent, but I was undermining their ability to hear what she needed to say, in the way she intended to say it. This really challenged me to think about how I deal with confrontation, and how much we project our own comfort or discomfort in those situations. Almost instantly this flipped a switch for me, and I greatly credit my comfort and ability to receive and give “tough feedback” to this experience. It completely reframed “confrontation” for me.

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization?

By positioning them to play a strategic role and engaging with them on proactive initiatives and concerns. For newer companies or early-stage startups, hire an HR professional early on (before you think you need one) and have them positioned to play a strategic role from the beginning. Be sure this is someone who embodies the culture you want to see because they will (hopefully) set a foundation for recruitment, policies, and procedures, etc., all of which should reflect the company culture. For those larger companies or startups that already have People functions established, I’d assess what leadership’s relationship looks like with those People team members. For example, if organization leaders aren’t having one-on-ones with the People team, the People team likely doesn’t have a seat at the table that is close enough to make a meaningful difference. If the only time a leader is engaging with the People team is to talk about reactive problems (ex. thinking about letting someone go), but not putting your heads together about employees, culture, engagement, feedback, etc., then that’s an area for improvement. I think it’s critical to see the HR team as a true business partner – ensure they understand your business goals on a very deep level; have them attend QBRs, leadership off-sites; and engage them in any type of strategic planning or OKR planning. HR teams will always help with the execution of business goals as they affect people, but to have them engaged in the formation of those goals makes a huge difference.

What are you most proud of?

Without a question that would be my current team. I oversee both Recruitment and People Ops/HR and knowing that I can step away and that the team is not only self-sufficient in reaching their goals, but that they jump in, cross-collaborate, and help each other at every turn is extremely rewarding. I’m not only proud of them as professionals who take on every challenge with a ton of enthusiasm, but I’m very proud to work with them as people.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Don’t check yourself at the door – bring your full self to work! You can invest a lot of time in formal HR learning (which you definitely should to get a foundation on employment law, and benefits), but it’s your life experience that will help you navigate the toughest things that will come your way, and it will be that experience that you pull on in order to help coach those you interact with. I think so often HR is seen as a reactive function, or one in which employees need to be fearful of or can often be seen as the hall monitor. I think the only way to humanize the function, and therefore be more influential and have more of an impact on people, is to show up genuinely. Looking after things like compliance, benefits, policies, etc., can often make the profession feel very black-or-white, but there is always grey area, and people are rarely all one thing or the other. Of course, there are going to be times in which things need to be by the book, but I think more often than not it’s very important to not be too rigid and to hold your convictions loosely.